Catholic groups file suit over HHS birth control mandate

Dozens of Catholic universities, dioceses and other institutions filed lawsuits in courts around the country on Monday (May 21) in … Continued

Dozens of Catholic universities, dioceses and other institutions filed lawsuits in courts around the country on Monday (May 21) in a coordinated effort, spearheaded by the U.S. hierarchy and Catholic conservatives, to overturn the Obama administration’s contraception mandate plan.

The 43 plaintiffs, which include 13 dioceses and the University of Notre Dame, say the mandate forces religious employers to provide contraceptive and sterilization services to employees that violate their beliefs. They say that infringes on First Amendment religious freedom protections, and charge that the federal government’s exemption for religious organizations is too narrow.

“This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives,” said Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins, who famously awarded President Obama an honorary degree in 2009 despite anger from U.S. bishops.

The Obama administration and its allies, including some Catholic groups, reject those assertions and say a proposed compromise to the mandate effectively bypasses any entanglement in birth control coverage by faith-based groups.

An HHS spokeswoman told The Associated Press the department does not comment on pending litigation.

It was unclear whether the new lawsuits, which were filed in 12 different federal jurisdictions, would be heard anytime soon or whether they would have any legal impact on the controversial White House plan to have health insurers provide cost-free birth control coverage.

Legal experts noted that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule next month on the constitutionality of the health care reform law, and could overturn all or parts of the 2010 law and render the latest lawsuits moot.

In addition, the part of the mandate that deals with religious groups does not go into effect for more than a year, and the Obama administration is currently processing feedback from Catholic groups — including many who filed lawsuits — on how to accommodate their concerns in the final regulation.

Dioceses and many of the groups that filed lawsuits will likely be exempt from the mandate, so the courts may not grant them standing as plaintiffs. One of the plaintiffs, Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio, last week announced that it was dropping its health insurance coverage because the mandate would force it to violate Catholic teaching. But the university’s insurance policy indicates it is exempt from the mandate.

The Cleveland-based law firm Jones Day, which is representing the various Catholic groups in the lawsuits, declined to respond to specific questions about the suit, saying only that the firm “looks forward to presenting its clients’ cases in court.”

Jenkins said that the decision to file a lawsuit now, before the birth control policy goes into effect and before the mandate is finalized, was taken because the negotiations could take months, “making it impossible for us to plan for and implement any changes to our health plans by the government-mandated deadlines.”

The Rev. Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life, an abortion opponent who filed suit against the contraception mandate in February, added that Monday’s mass filing could expedite a high court review that could settle the issue sooner rather than later.

“When there are multiple federal lawsuits on the same issue in different parts of the country, this can create the potential kind of conflict that the Supreme Court may be more likely to resolve,” Pavone said.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the administration’s insistence on continuing with the mandate left church leaders with little choice. The Archdiocese of New York was one of the plaintiffs that filed suit Monday.

“We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress — and will keep at it — and there’s still no fix,” Dolan said. “Time is running out, and our precious ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.”

While the lawsuits effectively raise the pressure on the Obama administration in the ongoing negotiations — while raising the profile of the hierarchy’s religious liberty campaign this summer — the filings also prompted questions about how united the hierarchy is in challenging the Obama administration on the contraception mandate.

Just 13 out of nearly 200 dioceses in the U.S. are party to the lawsuits. While the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is “facilitating and coordinating” the lawsuits, the hierarchy’s public policy arm itself has not joined in as a plaintiff.

“Our bases are covered (by these lawsuits). Our concerns are addressed. No need to pile on,” Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a USCCB spokesperson, explained.

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Universal Uclick.

  • LouAZ

    OK, SCOTUS, time to make up your mind about the Constitutional Rights of Citizens or the imagined rights of a very small group of men in dresses. Pick ONE !

  • IheartUSA1

    The Constitution protects citizens religous freedom from the government. The notion of Seperation of Church and State is not in the Constitution rather it is in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Danbury Baptists in 1802. Pretty sure the Constitution is going to win out.

  • JFT1

    I’m pretty sure it will and that your interpretation of the Constition is wrong.

    The first amendment protects freedom TO express/practice religious belief AND freedom FROM the imposition of religious belief on the people or the Government. What the Bishops want to do is impose religious beliefs — a good portion of which even praticing Catholics don’t believe in — on the people and the government.

Read More Articles

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

987_00
An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

shutterstock_134310734
Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.